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Why should hospitality businesses look to embrace alumni?

Updated: Aug 22, 2019

The turnover of talent in hospitality is higher than many other sectors. It’s not uncommon to see team members move on after just six or nine months. This has been the case for as long as I can remember, well before the label "portfolio career" gained any mainstream popularity. The nature of hospitality does allow people to slot into a new position relatively easily, if they have the right personality and demonstrate a great attitude.

In the past few weeks I've been working on various projects and presented in Italy, Poland, Estonia and Latvia. Along the way I've spoken with many brilliant hospitality team members, many of whom see it as a career. The majority told me they have worked in the UK at some point in their career of which most of them said they had a great time here and have considerable respect for the industry. One Italian restaurant manager told me he came to the UK thinking he was a master of managing restaurants and after arriving realised he was a top gun at service, but really didn't know much about the business side of running a venue. He spoke with pride about how professional we are in running venues and how he had considerably progressed since returning to his home country.

It really got me thinking about the challenge we have as an industry right now in recruitment and retention. Some of these people had only stayed in the UK for six months or a year, but almost all were absolute advocates for our sector.

Having had my start in our family restaurant, I worked in a few other venues near my family home, but my first professional position was at Gleneagles in Scotland. It was a really defining time for me. It helped me to grow as an individual in so many ways – not least because it taught me hospitality could be a career to be proud of.

My colleagues came from every corner of the world. I started lasting friendships and business contacts, many of whom I still regularly speak to now. It felt like a true hospitality community. I returned there twice as part of my career, which many others did too. I have some real affection for Gleneagles and I still laugh with friends that if I got shoulder tapped for the top position at the hotel, I’d find it hard not to seriously consider it – despite all the other great things going on in my career. Via Facebook I regularly see former colleagues returning as guests, returning to employment there and often sharing news of the hotel, clearly showing they are interested in keeping up to date with its progress. Personal anecdotes aside, on my travels around the world, what strikes me is I am not alone. There is often great respect and fondness for previous workplaces.

Your former team members are almost certainly out there telling others about their experience of working at your organisation, and that is why it is so important people leave in a positive manner. But it's more than that – you have a whole army of people who you could activate as being great ambassadors – an alumni so to speak.

The benefits are broad:

  • Helping to encourage other colleagues to consider working at your workplace, as I have done with at least a dozen people who subsequently worked at Gleneagles. There are many examples of generations of families that have been encouraged to do just that.

  • Boomerang team members who will come back for different or more senior roles.

  • A group of people who have an affinity with your business and may want to return as a guest, that you can activate around special events and low periods, with some great discounts or rates.

  • Positive sentiment spreading the sector.

  • Case studies showing people who start their career with you go on to great things.

Universities spend a lot of time on maintaining and activating alumni relationships, with regularly communications and events. This is for the same reasons I've listed above. Many firms in the consulting and accounting sector do the same thing with considerable success.

The prompt to write this article was being a member of "Gleneagles Hotel Oldies", which is a Facebook group that is managed by a former member of the team. It has more than 1,200 members and is relatively active with people sharing stories and old photos – some back to the early 1960s! There's absolutely no negativity, I might add. This has been community created and maintained, with some current team members engaging too. There is no engagement with anyone senior at the hotel, with a relatively impactful online community. Someone recently started organising a reunion, with a considerable attendance – it would have been the perfect opportunity to have hosted the event at the hotel and would have engaged this community. Based on the anecdotes online, I'm sure there would be some amazing stories that could be captured and utilised socially for the hotel or in building the hotels employer branding.

As a business, we are often given challenges around employer branding and employee engagement from our clients. It feels like many are missing a trick as employers by not keeping in contact with former employees, but also by letting people leave on bad terms. The real opportunity here, which I hear Corbin & King embraces, I believe is with previous managers being added to a database, invited to events and told about company news and opportunities.

On a broader scale, I wonder if there is an opportunity to build a hospitality alumni programme as a whole sector here in the UK too, staying in touch with those people from overseas that have worked and helped to build our sector.

It’s also worth remembering that whatever happens with Brexit, we are the most developed restaurant industry in Europe, and we will remain a place that is high on many peoples' places of where they want to work.

Originally published in Propel Premium Opinion


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